Rushes: Docs | PBS | Fests

21.March.2012: Twitch’s Kurt Halfyard reports on the full lineup for this year’s Hot Docs, Toronto’s documentary film festival running from April 26–May 6: “With almost 200 films from over 50 countries, there is a lot to wade through.” Among the many films already making waves on the festival circuit are portraits of Ai Weiwei, Bob Marley, Jeffrey Dahmer; odes to New Orleans (Tchoupitoulas) and Detroit (Detropia); and James Franco and Ian Olds’ inside look at General Hospital, Franophrenia (Or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is). The festival will celebrate Québécois cinema-vérité pioneer Michel Brault with its Outstanding Achievement Award. A special “Documentary Plays Itself” program includes Gambler, a picture about Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s financial struggles; Lost in La Mancha, about Terry Gilliam’s aborted Don Quixote project; William Greaves’ highly reflexive 1968 film (complement to David Holzman’s Diary), Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One; Thom Andersen’s incomparable analytical video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, which also screens next month as part of the Whitney Biennial; and Agnès Varda’s ruminative The Beaches of Agnès, which is streaming on Fandor now.

More news on the documentary front from Anthony Kaufman, who reports that filmmakers and producers are up in arms following reports that PBS documentary showcases Independent Lens and POV have seen ratings plunge 42 percent after the network switched time slots. Kaufman quotes from an open letter from Chicago-based doc production company Kartemquin Films: “PBS’s programming decision has, effectively, moved these two award-winning series off the main schedule, by leaving it up to stations to program them on their own, on perhaps the most competitive night of the TV week. Both series have carved out a trusted relationship with audiences on Tuesday nights. PBS’ John Wilson has acknowledged that Thursday, a local-programming night, is a ‘no-fly zone’ for PBS programs.” Kaufman goes on, “With over 250 signatures as of Monday from the likes of D.A. Pennebaker, Alex Gibney, Rory Kennedy, Steve James, Bill Moyers, Laura Poitras and Jessica Yu, as well as support from Writers Guild of America East, the open letter has served as a focal point for members of the American documentary community who feel outraged that two of their most important and essential distribution avenues are being seriously threatened.”

In other festival updates, the San Francisco International Film Festival follows Berlinale in having Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell My Queen as its opening night film on April 19. The Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, has announced Hong Kong legend Johnnie To as a special guest. To will present his new film, Romancing in Thin Air, at the fest. Ahead of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen beginning April 26, Kevin B. Lee and Volker Pantenburg have inaugurated “Film Studies in Motion,” a weekly web series dedicated to the kind of analytical video essays that Lee creates for the Keyframe film journal.

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